When Bill Smart, who grew up in Lindale, won a blue ribbon in a nature study course as a 12-year-old boy at Tyler State Park, he said he never thought he would eventually be the park superintendent.
“I still have that blue ribbon,” said Smart, who recently retired, ending a 31-year career with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, with the past 10 years spent as superintendent of Tyler State Park.
“Enjoying Tyler State Park as a child and coming back years later as superintendent has been nice,” Smart, 56, said Friday.
“Bill has been an excellent superintendent. … He has always kept the park resources and the customer in mind and has been a great mentor and leader for his park staff,” Ellen Buchanan, East Texas regional manager for the parks department, said.
“Bill is never at a loss for words.”
John Yarbrough, retired regional manager, said, “He’s never met a stranger. Bill always enjoyed his job to the fullest and he did it at the same time sharing his life with his family and his church and the community. He always kept the park resources and the public in the forefront of all his decisions. I’m proud to call Bill a coworker and a friend.”
Brad Hood, regional maintenance specialist for the parks department, said Smart “taught me a lot. I worked under him for several years. He was a great mentor for me. He gets along with everybody. He’s a people person.”
John Thomas, superintendent of the Daingerfield State Park, who has worked with Smart for 30 years, said Smart “conducted his business well and always was very receptive to the public and was an excellent park manager.”
Friends and relatives held a celebration Saturday in honor of Smart’s park service.
Smart started out as an hourly worker at Tyler State Park while attending Tyler Junior College. For a year, he said, “I was just another person cleaning restrooms.”
Then he worked five years for Cotton Belt Railroad, surveying and working in the engineer’s office in Dallas doing new track design and layout.
But due to a downturn in the economy, Smart was laid off in October 1982. He moved back to East Texas and that fall and winter made his living hauling pulpwood and cutting firewood.
“I knew that was going to play out in the spring,” Smart said.
Desperate for a job, he applied for an opening at Tyler State Park.
“The physical labor attracted me; I love physical outdoor work,” Smart said, recalling that in the beginning he helped build retaining walls and tent pads.
Smart spent seven years as a ranger at the Tyler park.
After a few years, he realized the potential of moving up and becoming a manager. He acquired extra college hours and in July 1990, he was promoted to assistant superintendent of Martin Dies Junior State Park in Jasper.
After four years there, Smart was elevated to superintendent of Purtis Creek State Park near Athens for 8 1/2 years. In 2003, Smart came back to Tyler State Park as superintendent.
Parks are classified in tiers. Since Tyler State Park is one of the larger, busier parks, it is considered a Tier 5 park, which is about as high as a park superintendent can go in Texas.
Smart is proud of what has come about at Tyler State Park during the past 10 years.
He said he is not saying he is responsible, yet believes the superintendent causes the direction of how a park is going to go.
“We’ve added sewer connections in Big Pine and Lake View (camping areas). We’ve upgraded electricity and other service for bigger RV’s and also converted screened shelters and the group dining hall into year-round facilities with heating and air conditioning,” Smart said.
Limited cabin use is now available with beds, microwaves and compact refrigerators.
Nearly every restroom in the park has been replaced, the bathhouse upgraded, and things made more accessible to the physically handicapped.
Smart is proudest of restroom improvements and newer restroom styles installed in the last few years.
“A state park is known for its restrooms and how clean they are. If people are asked what they like in a state park, they say clean restrooms. Having clean, updated restrooms is very important and that is one of the things we provided is good restroom facilities,” Smart said.
More camping loops also were added.
What Smart said he has enjoyed most in his job is working with people — not just the employees, but also the park visitors.
“You get to visit with a lot of different people and they come here from all over the world to our state park. I’ve visited with people from Germany and Australia. It’s amazing,” Smart said, estimating the park attracts approximately 100,000 visitors a year.
Most are from the Dallas-Fort Worth area, the Shreveport, La., area and Houston.
“We bring in more out-of-county visitors than anything in the county,” Smart said.
State park camping is generational, Smart said, observing that the fourth generation of one family comes for family campouts.
Since he resided in the park, visitors could call him anytime 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“Sometimes they called for serious reasons and other times for less serious incidents, such as a raccoon tearing into their camp site and they want to know what they can do about it. That makes life interesting to have those phone calls and conversations with people,” Smart said.
People come to Tyler State Park to camp, swim, hike, walk, picnic, canoe, kayak, paddle boat and bike.
“Tyler State Park has some of the premier mountain bike trails in the state of Texas,” Smart said.
“You know it has to be good when someone is willing to drive 100 miles from Dallas just to bike ride for an hour or two and turn around and go back home that same day.”
The park has a total of 12 miles of trails. That includes 10 miles of multiple use hiking and biking trails, the Whispering Pines Nature Trail and a path around the lake that is a historical walking path partially accessible to wheelchairs.
The superintendent’s job nowadays is basically a manager just like any other business, Smart said.
As superintendent, he dealt with directives from the parks department headquarters in Austin, personnel issues, customer service issues, public relations and worked with communities and companies that wanted to have special events at the park.
Even though the job involves nature and preservation of nature, it’s also about the customer — getting the customer to the park and providing services that attract people to the park, Smart said.
“The most fulfilling thing for me is planting some kind of seed in someone to enjoy the outside, whether it’s small children or young adults,” Smart said.
“Those seeds have the ability to grow and make people want to get involved in nature, whether it’s to walk around the lake and look at birds or whether it’s to be concerned about conservation or just fishing.”
His fondest memories are of enjoying the park and spending time in the park with children, including his own three daughters when they were growing up.
“My legacy would be that I took the best care that I could of the legacy that was left for me,” Smart said.
He noted that the Civilian Conservation Corps left a legacy in building parks nationwide, including Tyler State Park in the 1930s during the Depression.
“The CCC boys were important in what they did for recreation and outdoor enjoyment,” Smart said.
In retirement, Smart plans to relocate to Wood County, where he is building a house on 17 acres that he plans to farm. His retirement was effective June 30.
Coming on Aug. 1 as the new superintendent will be Paul Harris, who is currently superintendent of Lake Sandlin State Park near Pittsburg.